Former leading New Zealand publisher and bookseller, and widely experienced judge of both the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, talks about what he is currently reading, what impresses him and what doesn't, along with chat about the international English language book scene, and links to sites of interest to booklovers.
Monday, October 28, 2013
TS Eliot prize nominee talks about re-writing the Indian epic for a modern audience
Daljit Nagra interview: Yoda-speak and Yorkshire voices
The TS Eliot prize nominee talks about re-writing the Indian epic for a modern audience
Daljit Nagra: Nominee for the TS Eliot prize 2013Photo: Andrew Crowley
Next Sunday, Indians all over the world will celebrate the festival of lights, or Diwali. The brightly coloured lamps and fireworks commemorate the climax of the epic poem The Ramayana, when the hero Rama brings home his abducted bride Sita. This much most schoolchildren will know from religious studies classes. But for the poet Daljit Nagra, born in Britain in 1966 to Punjabi parents, Rama’s story was a powerful part of his upbringing. “My family would tell me the story in the small hours around Diwali time,” he tells me over a fish curry at Rasa near Bond Street. “It was a good vs bad moral story – working hard and being dutiful rather than sensual or lazy.”
Until his twenties Nagra only knew The Ramayana in the Punjabi oral version. Then he discovered a prose retelling by the masterful Indian novelist RK Narayan, and soon found there were literally thousands of retellings in dozens of languages from Sanskrit to Javanese. After publishing two successful poetry collections with Faber – the first, Look We Have Coming to Dover!, won theForward Prize for best debut – Nagra has now written his own version of The Ramayana. “It’s aimed at the educated, middle-class British reader,” he says, “who knows the European classics but probably doesn’t know the Eastern.” More